On February 6, 1993, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, the only African American man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens, dies of complications from AIDS, at age 49 in New York City. Ashe’s body later laid in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects to the ground-breaking athlete and social activist.
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Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., was born in Richmond on July 10, 1943. He first picked up a tennis racket as a young boy at a segregated playground near his home. Ashe attended U.C.L.A. on a full scholarship and in 1963 became the first African-American member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team. In 1965, he claimed the individual NCAA tennis championship and helped U.C.L.A. win the team championship. After graduating in 1966, Ashe served in the U.S. Army for two years. In 1968, while still an amateur player, he won the U.S. Open and became the first Black man to win a Grand Slam event. Two years later, in 1970, Ashe won the Australian Open. In 1972, he was a co-founder of the Association of Tennis Professionals, the union for male players, and later served as its president. Three years later, he beat heavily favored Jimmy Connors to win the singles title at Wimbledon. Ashe also competed on the Davis Cup team for 10 years, winning three championships. His prize money and endorsements made him the first African-American millionaire in his sport. In 1980, though, heart problems forced Ashe to retire from tennis. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.
Off the court, Ashe was known for his commitment to charitable causes and humanitarian work. He established tennis programs for inner-city children and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. Following his retirement, Ashe was a TV sports commentator and columnist and wrote a 3-volume book, “A Hard Road to Glory,” about Black athletes. In 1988, Ashe learned he had AIDS. It was believed he contracted the HIV virus from a tainted blood transfusion following a 1983 heart operation. Ashe kept his medical condition private until April 1992, when a newspaper informed him of its intention to run an article about his illness. Ashe decided to pre-empt the article and held a news conference to announce he had AIDS. He spent the remainder of his life working to raise awareness about the disease. In 1997, the U.S. Tennis Association announced it would name the new center court stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
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